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Posted September 18, 2013

Column - Productivity

Avoid Burnout and Maximize Productivity: Pretend You Have Type 1 Diabetes at Work

By Andrew Deutscher

North American workers are now putting in 20 percent more hours than in 1970, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Diminished resources are the norm, leaving employees feeling overwhelmed and distracted with increased complexity and demand. The world is getting smaller and technology is getting faster, yet the number of hours in a day has not changed.

On a recent webinar for a large organization, the leader of a talent management group spoke anxiously about the changing nature of people’s roles. “What you do is valued here, but we need to keep up our level of quality and output with a sharply reduced budget,” she said. Does that resonate for you as a leader or employee?

One way to help employees be more productive is for managers to help them take care of themselves. As the father of a young child with type 1 diabetes, I have a suggestion: Teach them to take care of themselves as if they had type 1 diabetes. Many people who are not faced with a chronic condition may take their well-being for granted. If you have type 1 diabetes, you have already or you will come to know that you simply can’t take your well-being for granted.

My son’s diagnosis and subsequent care have changed my thinking. I have since met many successful athletes, businesspeople and others with type 1 who live productive and satisfying lives under the constant pressure of a chronic disease. The key is they know their first priority must be their own well-being.

Pretending that you have type 1 diabetes at work is a good way to produce the behaviors necessary to manage yourself in the new reality where demand is overwhelming our capacity. To meet this demand we must be intentional about how we increase our capacity. What those with type 1 diabetes, and any chronic disease, truly understand is they need to consider their capacity before they take on any task to be truly effective and satisfied.

What are employers looking for out of their people to manage themselves when change is the norm, priorities rapidly shift, and workloads are increasing? It turns out they are qualities trained and honed in those with type 1 diabetes.

Maintain Energy. Food is fuel; its main purpose is to nourish and provide us with a steady source of energy to take on our daily challenges. Managing our blood sugar throughout a day is integral to being effective at work, where being energized at 3p.m. should feel similar to how we feel at 10 a.m. Those with type 1 diabetes must ensure they have steady blood sugars or run the risk of severe lows and highs, dramatically impacting their mood, focus and overall effectiveness. Try eating whole foods 5-6 times daily including two 100-150 calorie snacks. What is the impact on your energy level?

Be More Resilient. If you had to prick your skin six to 10 times a day just to check your blood sugar you’d be tougher. In addition, it would give you critical information about where you are and what you need to do to feel better and as a result, perform better. While you won’t be literally checking your blood sugar, what challenge can you take on to build your overall resilience? It is probably the things you are putting off now because it’s not immediately gratifying and somewhat painful.

Persevere. Barbara Anderson, a professor of Pediatrics and a veteran in the type 1 field uses the term “disease burden.” The term signifies how trying and difficult managing diabetes can be, and how that directly builds emotional and mental states over time. As a result, those with type 1 diabetes become stronger in their perseverance. It’s part of their DNA. They are also deeply connected to a sense of purpose that makes it much more likely for them to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. What’s your purpose? Start by asking what truly gets you out of bed in the morning.

Stay Focused and Aware. Our attention is under siege. The numbers of distractions in the workplace have increased exponentially over the years in the digital age. We typically work in contradiction to how our bodies are designed to work, known scientifically as the ultradian rhythm: intense focus and exertion for a specific period of time and then recovery. This suggests we work best in no more than 90-minute increments. Asking yourself every 90 minutes to two hours how you’re feeling physically, emotionally and mentally allows you to gain a roadmap for awareness and the ability to listen to yourself instead of tuning out your needs. We are much more likely to reach for sugar or coffee or serve up our own stress hormones under demand if we are not checking in with ourselves every two hours. While you don’t have to literally check your blood sugar, you will be building the heightened awareness of someone with type 1.

Sustain Yourself. If we are burning down our energy over the course of a day, we need to refuel it, specifically in the form of glucose and oxygen. There is a lot of emphasis in organizations on working long hours and prizing hard, continuous work. Unfortunately, it’s leading to exhaustion, overall poor health and burnout. Our most fundamental need is to spend and recover energy. By modeling self-care behaviors in those with type 1 diabetes, you will honor the need to replenish, recover and ultimately, be healthier and higher performing.

How do we build the necessary skills for an unforgiving work environment characterized by long hours and diminished resources? Imagine you have type 1 diabetes. Through the challenge of managing a chronic disease, those with type 1 diabetes are more equipped to recognize how to sustain themselves. They need to for their very survival. Now, we live in a world where that’s required of all of us.

Andrew Deutscher is a speaker for The Energy Project andauthor of typecast – Amazing People Overcoming the Chronic Disease of type 1 Diabetes, to be released Fall 2013. As the parent of a type 1 child, he is a passionate advocate for type 1 diabetes, serving on multiple committees for JDRF Georgia. His experience in the corporate world, and now as a performance speaker, allows him to frame diabetes care in an empowering and respected way. For more information, contact Andrew Deutscher at 646-334-4381 or

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